Friday, October 11, 2013

Blessings from my little "homestead"! I hope your week has been going great. Mine has been a week of wonder and learning. A week of getting prepared for the winter and working like a little squirrel to do so. Every day the Lord shows His love and concern for us. My Dear is a mechanic by trade, but is disabled as a Iraqi war veteran who was injured in the war. He still does usually small mechanic jobs for friends around town. He is working right now on a 1950-something jeep and has been doing work on the transmission, brakes, and clutch. It has been a lot bigger job than he usually does as he doesn't have a shop, or lift or any other larger equipment to use! He was trying to get the transmission back in to the vehicle, and was having a bit of difficulty with it. Finally just prayed and asked the Lord for help. Right away a small still voice said, "just lift up on the front of the transmission a little". He walked around and lifted it up just a little and the whole thing slide right into the jeep right where it belonged. How many times do we here a small voice and ignore it when it could make our lives so much easier if we listened? I know I am guilty of doing that, of thinking I can just figure it out myself. But really I should just save time and let the Father help me out. Anyway on to grape juice!

I was able to glean some grapes from a man in a neighboring town. His grapes were Concords, and I also got some from an alley where they grow over the fence. The fence grapes were a different variety and did not have the real sweet strong flavor like the Concords so I decided to mix the two to get a better blend. I then used a steamer juicier to make my juice. Here is the picture of the steamer juicer and grapes after I had rinsed them well to get rid of any dust, spiderwebs and spiders...
I loaded the grapes into the steamer basket at the top of the juicer, and put water in the bottom section of the juicer. The middle section with the tube coming out of it is where the juice collects as it is steamed out of the grapes. I set it on my burner and turned it on high. This will heat the water in the bottom to boiling and start steaming the grapes. It is VERY important to not let the bottom section run out of water. If it boils dry your grape juice will burn, or cook which gives it a bad taste. When the grape juice is 3/4 of the way up the cone on the inside middle section of the juicer, I used the tube to drain it directly into my hot, sterilized jars. It is very hot to take precautions. Also I only let about 2 quarts at a time collect in the juicer to preserve a fresh taste.

I adjusted lids and rings on the top (the lids had been in hot water on the stove), and set them on a double thickness of towels. I did not process it in a water bath canner, and all my jars sealed on their own from the heat alone. Of course that is not what is recommended when you read the Ball canning book, and so don't process your juicer at your own risk. Otherwise do so according to the experts on this. I put 2 tbls of sugar in each quart jar to sweeten a little, but you should do what your personal preferences are on that.That is pretty much it! So easy, and as long as you have the time to wait for the juice to start coming out, you can make delicious grape juice. I got 8 quarts of beautiful juice out of the grapes I had. Since this batch someone gifted me with three more plastic bags of the bland grapes and I am hoping to get more of the Concords to make another batch. We will drink it straight with breakfast or mix it with Squirt or Sierra Mist to make punch for Christmas dinner. Have a blessed day and next time I will show how I canned my own dried beans. Stay tuned and have a very blessed day. Remember listen for God's quiet still voice speaking to you.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

When I moved away from my farm life to become a finance executive I didn't think I would ever be canning again and promptly gave away all my canning implements to my sister. All my jars, lids and bands, cheesecloth, and 2 water bath canners were now in her very capable hands. I only kept (probably due to my subconscious revolting) one water bath canner and my trusty pressure canner. I am so very  glad I was wrong about where the Lord thought I belonged, although this year has been a year to start over, it has been a great journey so far. This year since I really did not plant a garden of my own, and I did not have an over abundance of produce. Starting over meant I did not have one jar of food preserved, nor one glass canning jar to do it in. And while I have been very fortunate to be able to glean from very generous people, I did not have the amounts needed to preserve the large amount of food I would need for my 5 person family in the year to come. This doesn't mean I did not take advantage of the opportunities I was given. I still took what I could and feel blessed to have what I do. I know that next year I will be power canning, tons of jars of green beans, tomatoes, and applesauce. I decided to do a lot of experimental canning while I am just canning a dozen or so jars of things at a time. In other words, I have canned several things I had not tried before. Things like dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, dried beans, homemade spaghetti sauce, and grape juice. I am just thrilled with the result so far. The two things I have put up that will be enough until next year are potatoes and onions. We live close enough to the growing fields of these two vegetables that we are able to glean in the fields after they have harvested them. Until I moved to this area the first time, I had never heard of such a thing.

But after the commercial digger and trucks come through and take what they want, (here at least) we are allowed to go through and "glean" or pick up what is left behind. Growers usually don't care as they are just going to disc them back into the dirt anyway. Now just in case you are thinking that we are getting the "leftovers" look again...

That is a wide mouth canning jar lid next to the onion and potatoes. As you can see we got really nice ones. Of course sometimes you have to look for them, and even go to a different field. But in the end we got about 650 lbs of potatoes and 500 lbs of onions. Some of those I gave away, and some will be saved for not just my little family but my mom and dad also. We are set for winter!
Here is a picture of my canning shed with the many bags of onions. We use gunny sacks for air flow. The canning shed is insulated so it should stay cold in the winter without freezing. This is my first year in this house so we will see. If potatoes and onions are allowed to freeze they will rot, also you can not keep them in plastic containers or they will sweat. The moisture then causes rot. I will be letting you know how they keep, and for how long. I might can some of the potatoes and freeze and dry some of the onions when the fresh food preservation is done and things slow down some. But for now, that is my post for today. Stop back by later for my post on canning dried beans and grape juice!

Monday, October 7, 2013

On to tomatoes!

Well here is the beginning of my posts on putting up tomatoes. I have been on a search for tomatoes in the last month as the ones in our garden did not seem to do very well. The plants just kind of gave up and seemed to die from the inside out. They just did not produce well. But fortunately the Lord provided a couple of very generous sources around my small town and I was able to glean them at several places. This is the first batch I got...
As you can see I have them sorted between stages of ripeness. The green ones will go in the canning shed until ripe.(a large green insulated metal storage shed out in the back yard. It has floor to ceiling shelves along both of the long walls, and is where I store all my food.) Some I will wrap in newspaper and place in a single layer in short cardboard boxes to hopefully slowly ripen for fresh eating in the next couple of months. The rest will be canned in various ways as they ripen. My first priority this year in canning tomatoes was I wanted to try making my own spaghetti sauce to can. It is more of a marinara as it does not contain meat. When I use it I will just brown my meat with some onions and garlic and add it then. So here is the process in pictures. 

 First thing was to "slip the skins", or peel the tomatoes. Some people skip this step, but for my spaghetti sauce I did it. To do this simply dip them in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds, then into cold water. The skins will easily slip off. You could then run them through your food processor to chop them up, I however don't have one of those so I used a hand crank salsa maker I have. While it took longer than a food processor would have, it was easier than chopping them by hand and did the job quite nicely. I then put them in to my huge cooking pot, and added the rest of my ingredients for my spaghetti sauce. Everyone has different tastes, and I am sure you have sauce recipes of your own to use. If you would like a copy of my recipe I will gladly provide one, please just ask in the comment section. 

But for space sake I will just say I added onions, garlic, green pepper, brown and white sugar, salt, Worcestershire sauce, and many spices. Here is a picture of it before I stirred it all up.

After I stirred it I simmered it for several hours. This I did to really get the flavors blended and developed well, and also to cook it down so it was a little thicker. Here is the real secret, I added 3- 12 ounce cans of tomato paste to it. This really thickens it up and gives it a great flavor.

 I let it simmer for another 45 minutes or so after adding the paste while I prepared my jars, lids and bands etc. I then canned it up in a water bath canner, processing the quart jars for 40 minutes each starting the timer after the water started boiling.

 Here is what I ended up with using my recipe for 20 lbs of tomatoes. 10 quart jars, and 1 pint. There are a few jars of regular tomato sauce in the picture as I had about 5 pints worth with the first box of tomatoes I processed but I will later detail how I make my sauce using my oven and my food mill.

Thanks for stopping by, and have a very blessed day.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Good evening. Well I thought I would share a little about where I live. I am a bit private so I can't tell you exactly where, but I will share some photos and tell you it is remote. We live 45 minutes to the closest big town with a grocery store. We do have a small cafe, a convenience store (it costs $4.69 for a gallon of milk or $4 for a pound of butter), and a gas station. For 7 months out of the year the gas station is only open 8am-3pm, Tues-Fri and closes by 12pm on Saturday. What this means is if you haven't got gas by noon on Saturday you aren't getting ANY until Tuesday morning at 8am. But it is very beautiful, and I love living here. It just isn't for everybody. Here is a picture from up above the town on a steep grade...
As you can see, it is a small valley nestled in the middle of mountain wilderness. I know the picture is not that good but I took it with my phone which is the only camera I have. Below is a picture me and my Dear took while out on a mountain drive. We do that a lot!
It was a gorgeous sunset that night. I will be sharing a post of what I did with some tomatoes I gleaned next time when I get back to the practical stuff. See you then.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Good morning! I am starting this post with a beautiful view of the moon I saw the other day. My camera doesn't do the best for taking pictures at a distance as it is just on my phone, but you get the idea.
It was big and beautiful! One of those fall moons that just seems like you could touch it. So I wanted to kind of introduce my little family to every one. I am a little careful about privacy so I will just call us by our nick names so here we go...
This is Lil'Bit, she is the youngest at 10 years old. We call her that because she is very small for her age but has a big attitude. She is very independent and outgoing. She is very capable of doing just about anything, and she loves to help me with just about everything. She is very loving and is great with special needs children. (We have a few of those in our family) She impresses me every day with her ability to figure stuff out and accomplish things for herself.

This is Sis, we call her that because while I have 2 girls, she is the oldest at 18 years, and the quintessential sister. She is the one who always loves and accepts you no matter what, and is always there for you in all seasons of your life. She takes care of Lil'Bit much of the time and is our all around caregiver.
She is "my person". Such a beauty both inside and out.
My only son, Coco. He no longer lives at home, as he is away at college. He is 20 years old.We call him that because when he was a baby, due to the beautiful color of his skin, I called him my little Coco bean. This I shortened as he got older. He also loves fashion icon, Coco Chanel so that was just fortuitous I guess. His strong spirit has kept me going at times, and he has had to be the man in our family more often that he should have as a child. Honest to a fault I can always count on him to give me direction, wise sound advice, and an opinion that doesn't waver. He has been my rock.

Well those are my kids. I am gonna go. I am canning tomatoes today. I will get that ready to post at a later date. I hope this makes you feel like you know me and my family a little better. You will know who these people are when I am talking about them. Have a blessed day!